Part 1: We all follow the Orient…to Dagenham.
Those who have followed Mrs Football Nerd and my spectacular descent into bona fide Leyton Orient obsession will know that there was no way that we could have even contemplated missing a Boxing Day trip to near(ish) neighbours Dagenham & Redbridge in the latest chapter of our O’s following. Even worse this time, my dad who has no connection whatsoever with East London or Orient, but short of other festive football watching options decided that he could think of no better way of spending the day than watching a non-league football derby.
Orient’s continuing good form meant that tickets for the away end were going to be somewhat limited for this game with purchases being restricted to one per person; a complication that saw the missus and I securing our tickets as soon as they went on sale using our smart phones while sitting in a bar in Seville on the Saturday afternoon in question. Welcome to the life of a football obsessive!
The limited availability of tickets did mean that we weren’t able to purchase a ticket for my dad, however being every bit as hopeless as us, if not worse, he decided that he would take the gamble that being a white-haired septuagenarian from the Wirral wouldn’t see him deemed sufficient a hooligan threat to preclude him gaining entry to the home sections. This was much to the consternation of Mrs Football Nerd however who very much regards her father-in-law as an “Orient jinx”; his previous and sole attempt to watch the O’s having seen the match called off due to a waterlogged pitch last Easter Monday.
In their infinite wisdom the powers that be had decided that this impassioned local derby merited a 1pm kick-off, a decision that presented something of a challenge to yours truly being in somewhat of a delicate condition after a Christmas Day evening in the company of a founder member of the Tartan Army and a bottle of his finest Scotch whisky and to my father who needed to get from Our Kid’s house out in the Hertfordshire/ Essex borders, via his hotel in Canary Wharf to Dagenham. Just in case he wasn’t able to make it and being a man of unstinting wisdom, he had already lined up Millwall v Reading with a 3pm kick-off as a contingency plan.
Just as the missus and I were enjoying a quick and much needed livener before setting off for the match, my dad called to say that he was at his hotel and ready to go. After rendezvousing with him while changing DLR trains at Canary Wharf, the three of us set off towards Dagenham.
As we approached the ground, it started to become apparent that there was going to be a sizeable (for Victoria Road anyway) crowd on so my dad hastily made his way to the ticket office to negotiate entrance to the ground while we set off to locate the entrance to the away end. Once inside we managed to find the bar which rather bizarrely despite having four sets of taps was staffed by a solitary member of staff. Not fancying the wait Mrs Football Nerd went in search of food returning with a portion of relatively tasty chips while I was finally being served.
Fed and watered we headed out onto the terrace which unusually ran along the side of the pitch, and found a suitable spec level with the penalty area. As visiting supporters tend to do on these sort of trips the O’s traveling faithful treated our hosts to a selection of our most derogatory songs, suggesting that: their town may contain a higher than usual population of the travelling community, that their houses might be mobile, and that the neighbourhood wasn’t necessarily to our liking and we’d quite like to go home!
Maybe it was the early kick-off time combined with the Xmas hangovers (for the crowd not the players!) but the game never really seemed to spark into life. Orient for their part seeming to have adopted a new approach to playing sideways with a strange reluctance to get the ball into the box. The only real chances of true substance seeing Bonne hit the side-netting and then force a save from Justham in the Daggers’ goal and then a speculative long range shot from Charlie Lee. They did however have to be thankful for a couple of good saves from Brill to deny Conor Wilkinson early on and then again just before the half-time break.
Orient started the second half with a seemingly renewed impetus but again created relatively little, until finally with just over quarter of an hour remaining Josh Koroma worked space for himself in the area and poked the ball home. The away end exploded as much in relief as joy, surely that would be enough? A mere few minutes after conceding however the home side got themselves back into it, Brill did well to parry a shot from Balanta but was helpless to prevent McQueen slotting home the rebound. Things went from bad to worse ten minutes later when Nunn fired home via the post securing all three points for the hosts. As we made our way home afterwards Mrs Football Nerd confirmed that my Dad is indeed a jinx and suggested that he might prefer to watch someone else next Boxing Day!
Part 2: Orient fail to make it count in the promotion push.
The prospect of a top-of-the-table promotion race influencing clash on the first Saturday of 2019 made the post-festive return to work a lot more palatable this year. While the game against the ‘Class of 92’ owned Salford City came too early in the season to be completely decisive, it did very much feel as if it was an opportunity for Orient to make a real statement in their drive for a return to the promised land of the Football League. Alas it wasn’t to be.
After the disappointment of the Boxing Day trip to Dagenham and having been away for the draw at Dover and the payback win over the Daggers, Mrs Football Nerd and I were absolutely chomping at the bit to be back at Brisbane Road and in the familiar Orient watching routine. The significance of this fixture meant that the missus even put her ‘Dry January’ plans on hold in favour of a couple of nerve calming pre-match pints in the Leyton Star.
As we followed our usual route to the ground, passing the Laurie Cunningham statue in Coronation Gardens for luck as we always do, you could feel the crackle of tension and anticipation in the air. While we have only been true regulars for the last couple of seasons this felt like the first really big game we have had the pleasure of going to, and we were both struggling to keep our anticipation under control.
Having wanted to secure our seats early enough to avoid the disappointment of missing out, we had bought our tickets when the central blocks of the East Stand were still closed off for repair, so the realisation that our usual Block C was now open and available only added to our disconcertion. Any hope we had of sneaking into our usual spot was quashed once we realised that the stand, just like the rest of the home areas, was completely sold out.
As the teams emerged to the familiar strains of ‘Tijuana Taxi’, the anticipation spilled forth from all sides of the ground and it felt like this was the moment for Justin Edinburgh’s charges to lay down a marker against a team viewed by the majority of traditional-minded fans as a new moneyed object of distain and something akin to the Manchester City of non-league.
Whether it was the occasion, the expectation or simply jadedness after a run of four games in the previous fourteen days, the O’s just weren’t at it. Sloppy defending saw them concede twice in the opening ten minutes, a position from which they would never recover. The normally ever dependable Big Marv in particular looked like a new born foal struggling to fathom how his telescopic legs actually functioned.
Worryingly, just as at Dagenham, for all their possession and pressure around the Salford penalty area, the O’s once again struggled to find the creative spark they needed to open up the deep lying defence and, in truth, while a goal would have given us hope it never looked like coming. The few shots that Orient fashioned were comfortable for Neal in the visitors’ net. Top scorer Macauley Bonne, once again starved of service, was consigned to a largely peripheral role. In the end Salford’s third goal a Piergianni header from a well-delivered free kick killed any lingering hope of salvaging something from the match.
On the face of it a return of 7 points from a possible 15 over the festive period is disappointing but not terminal to the Orient’s promotion hopes. Given where they were this time last season, still being top of the table with a 2 point lead keeps the O’s very much in the driving seat heading towards the run-in. The major concern is that things need freshening up; a change of system and/or personnel may rekindle the spark that seems to have faded a little bit. Justin it’s over to you!